No. 2 seed Northwestern is ready to rumble in the Big Ten Tournament.
For the first time since 2004, the Wildcats will host the conference tournament on their home courts, with the first round having started on Thursday. The top four seeds — Michigan, NU, Ohio State and Purdue — all received first round byes and begin play Friday. The Cats will play Indiana, who defeated Penn State 4-1 on Thursday.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves and every match we have to play,” freshman Maddie Lipp said. “Every opponent is going to be really tough and important. We’re just focusing on what we need to do to get the win.”
Under the leadership of coach Claire Pollard, the team has won 14 of the last 15 Big Ten Tournaments, its only loss coming to Purdue in 2012. This season, the Cats finished with a 10-1 record. Despite the one loss, NU is still the highest-ranked team nationally, at No. 16.
Last year, the Cats were in the same situation with a 9-2 record. They claimed the No. 3 seed because of losses to Michigan and Nebraska but ranked No. 16 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. During the tournament, NU took back both of those matches to become conference champions.
This year, NU finished out the regular season with dominant matches against Minnesota and Wisconsin, sweeping both events 7-0. Pollard has mentioned the team needs to play its best tennis now in the postseason in order to advance far first in the Big Ten Tournament and potentially the NCAA Tournament, to be held in Georgia.
“We need everyone to show up every time we play,” Pollard said. “I think if you look over the course of the season, when we’ve played a great doubles and six significant chances at all six (singles) spots, we’ve been really, really good. When we haven’t done that, we’ve been very average.”
One of the performance goals Pollard set for the team going into the final regular season weekend was to win a match without the doubles point. The Cats have yet to achieve that goal, but now is not the time to test fate. Throughout the season, NU has needed the doubles point to emerge victorious: The Cats have lost every match in which they haven’t secured it.
To cap off the season, sophomore Alicia Barnett won all 10 of her conference singles contests, including in the one conference loss to the Wolverines. Barnett is looking to avenge the team loss during the conference tournament.
“I think we have a really good chance of beating them this time as long as we give all nine (doubles and singles) spots a chance,” Barnett said.
If the Cats win the tournament, NU will have claimed at least one Big Ten title, either regular season or tournament, for all 16 years that Pollard has helmed the squad.
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